Alphonse Leo Kelly

“Everything was as quiet as a mouse. The Huns knew we were going over but little did they expect us on that morning..."

April 9, 1917, was not a typical day for the young Canadians—even amidst the chaos of war.

Before the sun had even risen Alphonse Leo Kelly and his companions enjoyed a delicious feast in preparation for the difficult day that lay ahead at "Vimy Ridge" Ridge. The menu consisted of bacon, spread, butter, tea and oranges—a meal far more colourful than what they were used to those times. Kelly even kept the menu as a souvenir.

“I guess the cooks opened their hearts for they knew the boys would have a hard day and it would be the last meal for quite a few of them,” wrote Kelly from the Fulham M Hosptial in London England weeks later in a letter to his father.

The cooks were, in fact, prophetic in their fears as over 10,000 Canadians would lose their lives or leave the battlefield severely wounded that day.

Kelly was born on May 5, 1897 in Alumette, Quebec—a primarily Anglophone community right near the Ontario border. He enlisted on January 7, 1916 with the 130th Battalion but was transferred thereafter to the 38th. From his hospital bed in 1917, the private put pen to paper and shared with his father details of the influential battle.

“We then lined up in the trench, got into position, fixed bayonets. Everything was as quiet as a mouse. The Huns knew we were going over but little did they expect us on that morning. We did not have long to wait. Our engineers blew two mines that ran under the Hun front line. This was a signal for the artillery.”

After that, things took a turn for the worse for Kelly. As he bent down to pick up a souvenir, he was hit with shrapnel in his left hand. He was badly wounded and rushed to the dressing station.

“It was an awful sight but a person does not mind it after all. It kept me going until finally I arrived in London Hospital, which is a beautiful place and the people are very kind, especially the young nurses,” he wrote.

Following his injuries, Kelly was discharged for medical unfitness. He would go on to enjoy a peaceful recovery, get married and become a paymaster at the Canadian International Paper Company. He was sure lucky to have survived the famous bloodbath.

Kelly lived a long and happy life—living to see his 70th birthday and the birth of 16 grandchildren. He died peacefully in his home in Temiscaming, Quebec, in the late 1960s.

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